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Life in ‘likes’: Children’s Commissioner report into social media use among 8-12 year olds

Context

One third of current internet users are under the age of 18 – and whilst most social media sites have an official age limit of 13 years, research is increasingly reporting the accessing and use of these sites by children under 13.

The Commissioner’s Growing Up Digital (2017) report, published last year, made considered recommendations towards fostering a more supportive digital environment for children and young people to grow up in.

Recent progress has also been made by the Government to address young people’s safety online (e.g. the Internet Safety Strategy launched in summer 2017, and the 2017 Digital Economy Act) which have made important changes concerning social media regulation for children. The Education Act 2011 has also given teachers stronger power to tackle cyber-bullying by searching for and deleting inappropriate images (or files) on electronic devices, including mobile phones.

There has also been much debate surrounding the relationship between social media and mental health and wellbeing – with the overarching message being that while social media can be a very positive tool for young people, there can also be negative impacts on mental wellbeing.

However, there is yet to be any considered Government research on the impact of social media on mental health and wellbeing for children at the younger end of the spectrum of users. With half of 11 and 12 year olds having their own social media profiles, this represents a significant gap in our understanding.

Research objectives

The objective for this study was to qualitatively explore the impact of social media use on the lives of children aged 8-12 years old, particularly in relation to their wellbeing and self-esteem.

Specific research objectives were to understand:

• The use and awareness of social media amongst this age group

• The relationship between family social media use and children’s use

• The perceived and actual role it plays in friendships and family relationships

• How their use of social media, or other’s use, influences their day

• How social media improves or distorts children’s understanding of the wider world

Methodology

This research involved engaging with and interviewing 32 children aged 8-12 across the country. Children were recruited in ‘friendship pairs’ to enable them to open up with more confidence during the research, and to allow for insight around peer dynamics and other social factors to emerge more naturally.\

All children and their parents completed a range of ‘digital pre-tasks’ which involved them reporting to us on their lifestyles, behaviours and attitudes towards social media, and also submitting examples of their social media activities through screenshots and photos.

Researchers then interviewed children through eight discussion groups, each including two friendship pairs, grouped by age and gender (full details on sample and approach is provided in Appendix 1).

This research was conducted for the Children’s Commissioner by Revealing Reality.